They meet on a trip at the Fortress of Louisberg in Nova Scotia. Her name is Margot, she’s 28 and on assignment as part of her job writing brochures for Parks Canada. His name is Daniel, about the same age, though his story is a mystery. They click from the get-go and later, they meet-cute on the plane back to Toronto. Daniel’s a ladies man, but he’s not a sleaze; he’s a playful sort and Margot is quick to respond to his charms, overcome by a feeling of deja vu about him.
Their sexual tension escalates in a cab from the airport, the two of them blowing a pendant back and forth that Daniel holds between two fingers. When the cab enters Margot’s neighborhood, Daniel’s flirtations are interrupted when she reveals, apologetically, that she’s married. Adding a double-dose of awkward is Daniel’s unfortunate revelation that it’s his stop as well since he only happens to live just across the street. Quietly, they retreat into their respective homes on a street of mostly semi-detached houses.
We meet Margot’s husband, Lou. He’s a gentle man forever busy doting over one chicken recipe or another for a book he will publish on the subject. We sense that Margot cares immensely for him and judging by the warm hues radiating every shot inside their home, we imagine them to be a contented married couple.
At this point in any other movie, we might find ourselves rooting for Margot to follow her urges regarding the stranger across the street, since she is played by Michelle Williams while Lou is portrayed by Seth Rogen, that affable younger-looking version of Bill Clinton but without any of that man’s game when it comes to women. We half expect Rogen to come off as a dolt or a manchild. Not in this movie, and that is because it is directed by Sarah Polley, a woman who is clearly older than her Earth years suggest. Instead of going for cheap effects, her camera listens carefully to Margot while Lou is presented as a good man and a good husband when it would have been easier to turn him into a dufus.
We follow their marriage in small moments that give us clues. They’ve been married for a few years now and we get the sense that the passion between them has faded. Or is it that sexual intimacy has long been a problem with them? We can’t be quite sure, but the way they joke with each other as though they are caught in arrested adolescence serves to conceal their lack of a deeper connection.
Meanwhile, Margot stares out of the window in her writer’s den hoping for a glimpse of Daniel across the street, who we eventually learn is a rickshaw driver. Given the choice between a chef and a guy who taxis people about afoot would be a no-brainer to a woman seeking a good provider and a companion, but Margot has this already and besides, Daniel inflames her desire.
Waking early once again the next morning, Margot makes like she’s heading to the store the moment she hears Daniel preparing himself to leave. Daniel pigeonholes Margot outside, calling her out. He knows she’s interested and he persuades her easily enough to join him over coffee. Their scene together at the cafe is frank in its sexual overtones as Margot asks Daniel what it is he’d do with her, and Daniel responds in kind, whetting her appetite even more.
Most reviews are calling this a movie about a woman’s infidelity to her husband. Either that or some grand statement about the pitfalls of marriage and commitment in an age of hyper-consumerism, where every season we throw out the old gadgets in favor of the new.
Those things are relevant to any discussion about Take This Waltz, but above all else, this is a perceptive character study about a woman who appears to be unable to feel real happiness. To Margot, happiness appears to be a face that one wears and not a sensation one experiences. Williams is a natural fit as Margot, another in a long line of characters from her that are restless at their core.
The ending is perhaps a little jarring, but study Williams’ face carefully and you find that she continues on with the same behavior from her marriage with Lou. Rogen gathers our sympathy here as her husband. He’s a likable and caring man who appears to be rendered impotent by his wife’s quiet desperation. Luke Kirby is perfectly cast as Daniel, a free-spirited and handsome man who’s internal life is made as unavailable to us as it is to Margot, which only fuels our curiosity–as well as her’s–about him even more. Sarah Silverman turns in an effective supporting performance as a recovering alcoholic on Lou’s side of the family. Margot may not be an addict, but their afflictions are rooted in the same place.
After her brilliant directorial debut with Away From Her, Polley delivers another fine drama here with an ear for naturalistic dialogue and perceptive human moments. It may not gather the same power as her first film, but its complexities are just as rich.
***½ (out of 4)